Police officers are seen outside the high court in Freetown, Sierra Leone in March 2018. A group of seven people kicked, choked, and beat journalist Alie Melvin Tokowa as he attempted to cover an event by the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party in the southern district of Moyamba on March 28, 2023. (Reuters/Olivia Acland)

Sierra Leone journalist Alie Melvin Tokowa beaten while filming political dispute

Abuja, April 10, 2023—Sierra Leone authorities should thoroughly investigate the recent attack on journalist Alie Melvin Tokowa and hold the perpetrators to account, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On March 28, a group of about seven people kicked, choked, and beat Tokowa, manager of radio broadcaster FOP 89.7FM Moyamba, as he attempted to cover an event by the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party in the southern district of Moyamba, according to the journalist, who spoke to CPJ by phone, and a statement by the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists, a local trade group.

The attackers, whom Tokowa identified as supporters of local SLPP politician Joseph Benedict Mbogba, beat the journalist as he filmed a dispute between Mbogba and another SLPP politician. Tokowa was hospitalized following the incident.

“Sierra Leone authorities must thoroughly investigate the brutal attack on journalist Alie Melvin Tokowa and act swiftly to ensure those responsible are held accountable,” said Angela Quintal, CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, in New York. “Too often, journalists on duty are attacked in Sierra Leone, and those responsible do not face the consequences.”

FOP 89.7FM Moyamba owner Jimmy Jombla told CPJ by phone that Tokowa was filming Mbogba arguing with another SLPP politician over the credentials of the party’s candidates when Mbogba’s supporters attempted to force the other candidate’s backers out of the area.

A group of Mbogba’s supporters then attacked Tokowa, who had identified himself as a journalist, according to Tokowa and a video of the incident reviewed by CPJ. The attackers beat Tokowa, picked him up, smashed his head into a door, hit him with a metal chair, and broke his phone.

The assault lasted about 15 minutes, during which bystanders shouted that the attackers “would kill him.” The beating ended after bystanders said they would testify against the attackers.

A fellow journalist transported Tokowa to a police station, where he filed a complaint and then fell unconscious. He woke up in a hospital the following day and was discharged on March 31.

Tokowa told CPJ on April 5 that he continued to experience pain in his back, head, and neck and was scheduled for further X-rays on April 13.

Mbogba confirmed the attack had taken place in a phone interview with CPJ but denied that Tokowa was attacked on his orders, adding that the incident was under police investigation. Sierra Leone national police spokesperson Brima Kamara told CPJ via messaging app that the case was being investigated and declined to speak further.

SLPP national spokesperson Lahia Lawrence Leema told CPJ by messaging app that members of the party “cannot enjoy the protection of violating the rights of any journalists” and directed any journalists who had issues with citizens to report them to the proper governmental authorities.